Category Archives: learning

I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean?

Area Based Review

The FE sector is going through some difficult and challenging times at the moment. One of the key aspects they need to work on are the Area Based Reviews.

One aspect of the area based reviews is that they must “embrace technology”.

Great, let’s embrace technology…

I can do that…

I can embrace technology…

Well, I think I know how to embrace technology…

Well, what does that actually mean, I am sure it means more than just hugging your laptop.

Okay let’s delve a little deeper into this.


The actual line from the government document says:

A willingness to embrace the possibilities provided by technology via blended, independent and online delivery and assessment, which can increase the quality and scope of provision and improve efficiency.

Hopefully embrace means more than just a passing hug…

What would an FE College (or whatever comes out of the Area Based Reviews) look like once it had embraced technology?

How could you describe an FE College that has embraced technology?

What would the learner experience be like from the learner’s perspective? From a member of the teaching staff and their perspective? From the perspective of someone from learner support or business support?

Most use of learning technologies that I have seen, read about in conference papers, news items, listened to at events, and personally experiences when working in FE, is less about embracing technology, much more about holding hands or giving a peck on the cheek to technology. Not much holistic embracing of technology by the whole organisation.

Part of this is because we really don’t know what is meant by “embrace technology” and we have no real idea of what it could look like.

A vision of how the learner experience should be, with references to how this experience would embrace technology is a good place to start.

The entire learner journey from where they are interested in undertaking a programme of study, from enquiry, enrolment to induction. The programme of study, schemes of work, lesson planning, resources, content, activities. How technology would be used to enhance and enrich the formal and informal learning. How will the learner use technology to find information, media and manipulate data? How will the learner use digital creation tools to support their learning? How will technology impact on research and scholarship? What role does innovation play in embracing technology? As part of their learning journey, what digital tools will a learner use for group and peer communication, how will they work together using online collaborative tools? What will be the role of digital social networking tools?

What will be the role of technology in supporting that learner experience? The use of data, analytics, online resources, digital content all need to be considered and integrated into the learner experience. The learner experience does not exist in isolation, the business support processes that lie behind that experience also need to be sure they don’t frustrate or block the use of technology that is being used to enhance and enrich.

How will the use of technology support the learner once the course has been finished?

The next stage will be look a potentially different experiences, ones that would not be possible without technology, or ones that take advantage of the affordances of digital technology. This is where online learning comes into play, flipped learning and providing a more personalised and flexible approach.

Embracing technology is easy to say, easy to write down. Ensuring that you actually holistically embrace technology across the whole organisation, as part of a wider review is challenging and difficult. We haven’t really done this before, so I don’t think we can assume it will just happen now.

The iPad Pedagogy Wheel

One question that often arises is how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?

In a previous blog post I talked about assessment and the importance of deeper and higher thinking skills. I mentioned in that post that using Bloom’s Taxonomy is one way of getting teachers to think differently about the type of questions they are asking of their learners.

When designing activities for learning, a taxonomy such as Bloom’s provides a framework that reminds of us how if we are to see learning taking place the types of thinking that needs to happen.

What the Padagogy Wheel does is provide ideas to learners (and staff) the kinds of apps that can support the different kinds of thinking and learning across Blooms.

The Padagogy Wheel

As learners and teachers think about how they are going to undertake the activities they want to do, this wheel provides ideas of which apps on the iPad could be used to support them.

Of course the iPad and apps would not be the only option open to the learners and that’s where the inner circles of the wheel will help those who don’t have, can’t use or don’t want to use the iPad.

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.  Based on a work at

Show what you know [Infographic] – Updated

I liked Tony Vincent’s excellent Infographic on apps that can be used for different activities. He has now updated it. Click image for a larger version.

Show What You Know Infographic by Tony Vincent

This is a really useful visual guide to apps, both mobile, but also importantly similar apps that can be accessed through a browser (not everyone has an iPad).

Nowadays teachers and students have a variety of ways to show what they know and to express themselves. Take a look at some of the hottest online and mobile tools for showing, explaining, and retelling in my infographic, “Show What You Know Using Web & Mobile Apps.” These tools can turn students into teachers and teachers into super-teachers! Furthermore, most of the apps listed in the infographic are free of charge.


Replaced apps that are no longer available.
Updated some app icons.
Added sections for Slide Presentations and Posters.

Via Tony Vincent’s Learning in Hand Blog.

Flipped Learning

Flipped learning offers many opportunities for improving the learner experience. One of the challenges that is often faced is challenging the assumptions that practitioners have about flipped learning.

I do quite like this video from Aaron Sams, in which he talks about flipped learning and how it works for him and his learners.

Aaron Sams is coming to BETT in a couple of weeks and is talking on the 30th Jan.

Show what you know [Infographic]

Quite like this Infographic from Tony Vincent on apps that can be used for different activities. Click image for a larger version.

 Show What You Know Using Web & Mobile Apps [Infographic]

Nowadays teachers and students have a variety of ways to show what they know and to express themselves. Take a look at some of the hottest online and mobile tools for showing, explaining, and retelling in my infographic, “Show What You Know Using Web & Mobile Apps.” These tools can turn students into teachers and teachers into super-teachers! Furthermore, most of the apps listed in the infographic are free of charge.

Via Tony Vincent’s Learning in Hand Blog, where you can also download a PDF version.

Using Learning Technologies

I was recently asked to give a short presentation at the Gloucester Academy on how Gloucestershire College used learning technologies. Though I did cover some of the technologies we are using to enhance and enrich learning, the main theme of the presentation was on how important it was to change the culture within an institution when embedding the use of learning technologies. Without a change in culture it is too easy to miss the potential and opportunities that learning technologies can bring to learning.

Those of you who have seen my other presentations will realise I cannibalised a lot of the content from them in this presentation. I do that now and again, especially when presenting to a fresh audience, I do recycle my material. Well often I am asked to speak about the same issues, so not really that surprising.

The presentation went down well, with the staff in my group mentioning key themes in their feedback to the rest of the staff.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #070: James Clay is so annoying…

Janina Dewitz and David Sugden discuss why James Clay is so annoying…

With James Clay, David Sugden and Janina Dewitz.

This is the seventieth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, James Clay is so annoying…

Download the podcast in mp3 format: James Clay is so annoying…

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes


100 ways to use a VLE – #15 Keeping a learning journal

Learning can often be seen as a journey, moving from a to b. Though learners (and practitioners) often focus on the destination, the journey is actually the important part.

When it comes to look back on that journey, either for revision, assessment, moving onto a new journey (qualification), reflection on progress; it can be challenging to see where you have been, remember what you did, you saw, you heard, you challenged, you learnt.

Learners will often have a journal of some kind, usually a folder with notes, handouts, assignments. However a paper based journal requires paper! By placing the journal online, ie on the VLE, the learner suddenly has much more choice when it comes to recording their learning. They can type in text, record an audio file or upload a video. They can put in links to webpages, websites, different parts of the VLE, e-resources, e-Books.

The choice allows learners to record their learning at a time and place to suit them. If they want to quickly type something up they can, if they want to quickly record something using a mobile phone, they can and upload later.

Going online or using a VLE doesn’t stop learners handwriting their reflective journal, very easy these days to use a TabletPC to write, or more simply, write it out on paper, photograph it and upload. Digital cameras and most cameraphones are now more than adequate to photograph text and for it to be readable on a screen.

Learners can also tag their learning entries, making them easier to sort and search later. They won’t need to flick through a large folder they can just enter search terms and find stuff quickly.

So why put it on the VLE?

Well learning can be an individual process, but sometimes learners may want to share their thoughts, and read the thoughts of others.

Tutors may want to be included in the process to allow them to better judge progress been made on the course. Using a VLE allows these users to engage with the learning process.

Using the VLE also allows collaboration between users, so the journey need no longer be a solitary or individual affair it can be a journey with peers.

Another option is to use third party tools, such as wikis or blogs, and embed them into the VLE, this has the advantage of allowing learners to maintain their learning journal once they have left the college. The journal doesn’t need to be constrained by the size of a folder and so can contain a lot of content if required.

It is an expectation that learners will record their learning journey, by using an online journal on the VLE not only will their journal be richer in terms of content, but can be shared, searched and there is a lot less chance of it getting lost!

Picture source.

Designing Informal Learning

So can you design informal learning?


There we go that was easy wasn’t it.

You see when you design informal learning, you formalise it and as a result it becomes formal learning.



There is always a but…

You see informal learning is such a valuable way of learning for learners that institutions are often thinking about how to design informal learning activities… of course as we know, that means it becomes a formal learning activity.

It might be useful at this point to define what I mean by informal learning, how it differs from formal learning and the implication of using the term as opposed to non-formal learning.

Formal learning is is learning that happens within a structure prescribed by an institution. This learning may happen within a classroom or lecture theatre, but could also happen outside the institutions. It will involve set tasks and activities and a timeframe. Examples could include:

  • a lecture on macroeconomics in a lecture theatre
  • a lesson on statistics in a classroom
  • a field trip to look at tourist sites in Gloucester

Formal learning is very much about learning that is planned, organised and assessed. There is structure, constraints and expectations.

Non-formal learning is learning that happens not just outside the confines of the institution, but also outside the qualificational framework. This learning is often ad hoc and unplanned. Examples could include:

  • reading a book on political history on a train
  • using the web to discover how to write an iPhone Application through sites, forums and iTunes U
  • watching a television programme on archaeology

Informal learning in my opinion is learning that happens outside the “control” of the institution, but is part of the learning towards a qualification that a learner will undertake. This learning may happen within the institution, but will also happen outside at home, at work or in a coffee shop. Examples could include:

  • an economics student reading books on macroeconomics in the college library
  • media students discussing an assignment on media channels in the college cafe
  • photography student checking websites on photography in Starbucks
  • managers in a business discussing their management course over lunch

This definition of informal learning differs from non-formal learning in that the activity of learning is still tied to the institution and the qualification, but is not a proscribed or set activity as set down by a practitioner.

So can practitioners design informal learning activities?


You see when you design informal learning, you formalise it and as a result it becomes formal learning.

It’s not about designing informal learning, it’s about institutions facilitating and encouraging informal learning. If this happens then, with encouragement from practitioners (rather than setting activities) we should see more learners learning informally.

So how should institutions encourage informal learning?

Well the key really is to think about what actually facilitates and encourages informal learning.

It’s a combination of factors and can include design of  learning spaces and the learning activities undertaken by the learners.

If learning activities are dependent on learners learning knowledge and demonstrating that they understand and can apply that knowledge through an essay or an assignment, then traditional learning spaces are usually going to be sufficient. Learning at home on a desk is probably quite normal for this kind of individual activity.

However once practitioners think more creatively about learning activities and learners are given more choice and control about how they undertake their learning, then the space in which the learning takes place becomes much more important.

The learning space and importantly the informal learning space is really important if learners are to take advantage of the time and space to learn. Learners will learn in a variety of places both in and out of the institution.

Inside the institution, we need to consider how the spaces we provide allow for informal learning. In the past we generally divided spaces into learning spaces such as the library and social spaces like the refectory or cafe. If we are to encourage informal learning, then we need to create social learning spaces. Usually (in the past) libraries were silent working areas, recently quiet working is now the norm. Good library design allows for a variety of learning activities from quiet individual work, to collaborative group work. Space needs to allow for the use of both new technologies, user owned technologies and traditional resources such as books and journals.

Questions you need to ask about your learning spaces?

Are the computers all in one place in the learning centre? Or are they spread about the space to encourage group working, working with non-digital (traditional) resources and individual working.

Do you provide a wireless network to allow users to use their own devices? Does the wireless network “work” with mobile devices such as the iPhone or other smartphones? What barriers are in the way when a learner brings in their device? Do they need to register the device? Have it PAT tested? Are there power points for user owned devices? How simple is it for users to charge their devices?

Can learners access digital and online resources via the wireless network? Can they access online storage?

Are users allowed to use their mobile phones in the learning space? Not for loud conversations, but for internet, SMS or listening to audio and video content.

What about the coffee?

Likewise what about the traditional social space? The focus is probably on moving people through the space as quickly as possible through a short lunch hour! They are probably designed for eating and drinking and not studying. They are probably loud noisy places, some may even have loud music!

These spaces are fully utilised during refreshment breaks and are designed to ensure as many people as possible can get something to eat and drink before they then move onto the next lesson or workshop. That obviously means at other times, the space is quieter and accessible for learning; but is it accessible and accomodating to those learners who want to use the space for learning?

Are they fully open plan? Are there spaces for small group working? Do you divide the space out or are there no divisions?

Are there different kinds of furniture to cater for different needs? Are there chairs, tables, sofas?

Are there different areas for different activities? Quiet spaces for individual working or reflection? Group spaces for discussion and collaboration? Open spaces for debate?

Are there charging points for learner owned devices?

Is it purely a self-clear area, or do the staff take pride to ensure that the space is attractive and conducive to study and learning?

Has any consideration been given to the sort of food and drink available? Are healthy snacks promoted?

What about the coffee?

Yes it is easier to design spaces for learning and design spaces for social use. It is more challenging to create learning spaces that encourage informal and social learning. As demands on space continues to grow and demand for more learner-led learning, it is important that institutions consider much more how their spaces can be used for informal learning.